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An educational environment on Second Life


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#1 David Richardson

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Posted 19 January 2007 - 08:40 PM

I'm involved in a project which has just been granted around $50,000 by a Norwegian government fund to produce an educational environment in the virtual reality programme Second Life (http://secondlife.com/). The main partner is the University of Molde in western Norway, and the other two places involved are Kalmar and Central Missouri State University. The funds we've been granted are for 2007, and if we do something useful with them, we'll get at least as much again for 2008.

Since this is a purely internal Norwegian affair (they've got oil money coming out of their ears!), the application process was very quick and painless. We managed to get an application together in about 48 hours, and the whole process, from application to decision took about 2 months. This meant that we haven't done a lot of the detailed work of deciding what we should do with this environment yet … which brings me on to you lot reading this!

The first thing we have to do is to design an educational 3D environment in which our avatars and those of our students can interact with each other. We're going to pay an outfit in Nova Scotia $15,000 to do this for us … but what is it going to look like? Swedish, Norwegian and American is the answer … but what does that actually mean?

Here are some thoughts I've just sent to my colleagues:

"It got me thinking about the environments that I've seen in SL so far - they've all been sub-tropical, with palm trees and people wondering around in T-shirts. They've also tended to be very technological and fairly flat.

Scandinavia for me, though, is hilly, forested … and cold! What about the Ice Hotel as an inspiration? (http://www.icehotel.com/).

"Ecological" is another term which springs to mind. What about a sedum roof? (http://www.organicga...sheets/gg38.php)"

We've had some fun ideas about what you're going to be able to do in the environment too … students and teachers can do all sorts of things you can't do in RL (the 'in' term for 'real life'), like fly.

Before I carry on about those fantasies, do any of you readers have any suggestions you could make?

#2 John Simkin

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Posted 20 January 2007 - 08:05 AM

I'm involved in a project which has just been granted around $50,000 by a Norwegian government fund to produce an educational environment in the virtual reality programme Second Life (http://secondlife.com/). The main partner is the University of Molde in western Norway, and the other two places involved are Kalmar and Central Missouri State University. The funds we've been granted are for 2007, and if we do something useful with them, we'll get at least as much again for 2008.

Since this is a purely internal Norwegian affair (they've got oil money coming out of their ears!), the application process was very quick and painless. We managed to get an application together in about 48 hours, and the whole process, from application to decision took about 2 months. This meant that we haven't done a lot of the detailed work of deciding what we should do with this environment yet … which brings me on to you lot reading this!

The first thing we have to do is to design an educational 3D environment in which our avatars and those of our students can interact with each other. We're going to pay an outfit in Nova Scotia $15,000 to do this for us … but what is it going to look like? Swedish, Norwegian and American is the answer … but what does that actually mean?

Here are some thoughts I've just sent to my colleagues:

"It got me thinking about the environments that I've seen in SL so far - they've all been sub-tropical, with palm trees and people wondering around in T-shirts. They've also tended to be very technological and fairly flat.

Scandinavia for me, though, is hilly, forested … and cold! What about the Ice Hotel as an inspiration? (http://www.icehotel.com/).

"Ecological" is another term which springs to mind. What about a sedum roof? (http://www.organicga...sheets/gg38.php)"

We've had some fun ideas about what you're going to be able to do in the environment too … students and teachers can do all sorts of things you can't do in RL (the 'in' term for 'real life'), like fly.

Before I carry on about those fantasies, do any of you readers have any suggestions you could make?


Who is your target audience? The title "Second Life" suggests it is for older people. Do you know about the University of the Third Age?

http://www.u3a-info.co.uk/

#3 Norman Pratt

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Posted 20 January 2007 - 12:40 PM

I already spend far too much time on my flight simulator to start investigating Second Life. But it does occur to me that we generally manage, despite ourselves, to make education in the real world rather boring. So you've got quite a challenge. I have one very subject-specific suggestion: could we have a Time Machine? After that thought, my imagination reverts to the mundane: it could have an interview room, say, for candidates to the English throne in 1066.

Edited by Norman Pratt, 20 January 2007 - 03:16 PM.


#4 David Richardson

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Posted 20 January 2007 - 08:08 PM

Thanks for the suggestions so far. The Time Machine idea is a great one - I'll pass it on to the project team. One of the people in the team has already been involved in the Virtual Harlem project, which recreated Harlem at the time of the beginning of the Jazz Age as a virtual teaching environment, and is currently working on a Virtual Montmartre (from the time of Toulouse L'Autrec) together with the Sorbonne.

At the moment our hands are very free indeed. We've got enough cash to purchase 'real estate', build a virtual centre on it, and run one very limited course in it during 2007. Then in 2008 there's going to be lots of cash to do all sorts of things. The idea so far is to purchase at least three 'islands', which are basically 3D spaces on which you can build anything you want. Molde, the main partner, are interested in research into interaction in general and systems analysis (as a subject), particularly at post-graduate level. CMSU is a teaching college (like Kalmar), and they've got a whole range of subjects that could use the environment. Bryan at CMSU has been teaching academic writing there for a year there now, using borrowed space.

As for Kalmar, it'll depend very much on who we can get to work in the space. My suggestion for the 2007 course (which we've decided ought to be aimed at post-graduates) is a course in schmoozing at academic conferences, which is something Scandinavians aren't very good at in general. A task could be to draw up our 2008 application for further funds!

We're thinking of making one island a 'systems analysis' island, another a teacher training island and a third one a media island. I'd love to get teacher trainees doing drama on the teacher training island, and we all have a lot of music going on …

The point is that in 2007 we've got the opportunity of creating a learning environment which could be used by all sorts of teachers to do a variety of things. We're commissioning some people in Canada to actually build the initial centre (which is why we need to decide what it's going to look like), but after that anyone with the skills or interest could ask to use part of it.

#5 David Richardson

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Posted 23 January 2007 - 07:26 PM

We had our first, brief project meeting in Bryan's 'classroom' in Second Life this afternoon (even though I haven't got my new iMac yet). We're picking it up really quickly. I have a feeling that none of us are quite prepared for how quickly this environment is going to be produced (since we can afford to have someone else do it for us!).

And I suspect that it's going to come as a bit of a surprise for our bosses too, since I reckon the news that Kalmar has a part in a joint Second Life educational environment is going to make national news in a small way. One of the main newspapers in Sweden, Dagens Nyheter, had a feature about Second Life a couple of weeks ago … but I don't think there are any other universities or schools who're even near appearing there. I've seen some of the work our builders have done, and it's really nice. I'm still hoping I can persuade my colleagues to go for the 'ice hotel' idea.

#6 David Richardson

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Posted 19 June 2007 - 09:50 PM

We've now taken possession of our two islands in Second Life (as of Friday). They're called Kamimo Islands (after Kalmar-Missouri-Molde). One of them is going to be under Kalmar's general management and the other will be Virtual Montmartre, a copy of the Montmartre area of Paris at the beginning of the Jazz Age in Europe (around 1920 - Josephine Baker and all that). Right now there isn't much to see, but we'll get going for real in September.

The first course we run from Kalmar will probably be Social English for Doctoral Students. The basic idea is that Scandinavians and Balts tend to be a little shy when expressing themselves in English, and so often fail to 'push themselves forward' at international conferences and the like. The result is that people in the international research community tend not to rate them so highly, invite them on to research teams, etc.

The idea is to expose some doctoral students to the kind of social situations in English that they might have to cope with at an international conference, such as rivals wanting to take over the question session after a presentation, introducing your research briefly and in everyday language to someone around a coffee table, etc. The students will then receive instant feedback from teachers.

We've got three Swedes (two specialists in Pedagogics and a Physicist), two Norwegians and a Chinese (the last three all into Logistics) at the moment. We'll probably be joined by a couple of Estonian engineering students. Around 8 participants is about right for a pilot course. The teaching resources will come from Missouri, Kalmar and the north of Sweden, with the research and evaluation being carried out by our colleagues in Norway. To me, as course coordinator and principal teacher on the course, it looks like a good mix!

We're starting on September 19th with a Marratech meeting, and then going on with four SL sessions, each with a different theme. The course will round off with another Marratech meeting.

I'll keep you all posted about how it goes.

#7 Graham Davies

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Posted 09 August 2007 - 01:11 AM

Language courses in Second Life are already being set up, notably Avatar English at:
http://www.avatarlanguages.com

The English Village in Second Life will also be launched in the near future.

See also Section 14.2 at the ICT4LT site, where I write about MUDs, MOOs and MUVEs and my experience in attending the SLanguages Colloquium on EduNation Island on 23 June 2007:
http://www.ict4lt.or...mod1-5.htm#14.2
and see also my report on SLanguages in the ICT4LT blog:
http://ictforlanguag...s.blogspot.com/

Gavin Dudeney, The Consultants-E, was the organiser of the SLanguages Colloquium. It worked very well as a virtual conference. We were able to talk to one another using SL text chat and audio chat with the Ventrilo audio chat facility. You can see screenshots at the above location at the ICT4LT site.

Talking of virtual conferences, EUROCALL's 2007 conference in Coleraine, Northern Ireland, next month will include a virtual strand (as it did last year in Granada, Spain). It's free and you can join it via the EUROCALL website:
http://www.eurocall-languages.org
There will be an introductory workshop - also with an online strand - on blogging, which I am helping to run.

#8 David Richardson

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Posted 09 August 2007 - 05:22 AM

Thanks for these links, Graham. We're connecting our islands into the voice network SL has in some places (we've been using the Skype earpieces so far), so we'll have full voice capability when we start.

The islands we own are being built on frantically over the summer. The one Kalmar and Molde will be using most of all is going to be fairly basic (though our computing and design students will be let loose on them come the autumn term, and they've got some really nice ideas), but the Virtual Montmartre island which adjoins ours (and is part of the same project) is developing into a copy of Montmartre in about 1920. Bryan's students in Missouri are then going to fill it with events, exhibitions and features on the theme of the beginning of the European jazz age.

The Social English course now has three Swedes, two Norwegians and a Chinese (from Norway), a probably two Estonians and two Italians. That's what I call an interesting mix! We kick off on 19th September, so I'll post again nearer the time.

#9 Graham Davies

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Posted 09 August 2007 - 08:52 AM

Thanks for these links, Graham. We're connecting our islands into the voice network SL has in some places (we've been using the Skype earpieces so far), so we'll have full voice capability when we start.

The islands we own are being built on frantically over the summer. The one Kalmar and Molde will be using most of all is going to be fairly basic (though our computing and design students will be let loose on them come the autumn term, and they've got some really nice ideas), but the Virtual Montmartre island which adjoins ours (and is part of the same project) is developing into a copy of Montmartre in about 1920. Bryan's students in Missouri are then going to fill it with events, exhibitions and features on the theme of the beginning of the European jazz age.

The Social English course now has three Swedes, two Norwegians and a Chinese (from Norway), a probably two Estonians and two Italians. That's what I call an interesting mix! We kick off on 19th September, so I'll post again nearer the time.


David, see my most recent posting in the Modern Languages section in the Education Forum. Patrik Svensson has been working in this area for several years, and he's not a million miles from you, namely at Umeε University, where he is Director of HUMlab:

http://www.humlab.umu.se/patrik
http://www.eng.umu.se/vw/ re the Virtual Weddings Project in Active Worlds, which is a virtual world predating Second Life.

#10 David Richardson

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Posted 09 August 2007 - 03:59 PM

Thanks for this tip too. I know of HUMLAB and Patrik, even though they're at the other end of the country (about Land's End to John O'Groats distance away). I used to participate a little in a discussion group called ITAS here, which was based at HUMLAB.

Active Worlds was interesting … but a bit platform-specific. I'm also more interested in the methodology than the technology.

Having worked with SL for a while, I can see its limitations, but I'm also convinced that SL, or something like it, will be an essential tool in the future. One of the reasons I'm a bit suspicious of hard-and-fast conclusions and theoretical frameworks for computer-based learning at the moment is that we haven't actually got to the end of the process of developing our toolbox of technologies. And as a new tool becomes available, it affects what happens with the older ones.

On the Social English course we'll be using Marratech (desktop video conference) before each SL session, for example, and I'm certain we'll find that the interactions on Marratech will be radically different from sessions which don't involve SL.

#11 David Richardson

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Posted 14 September 2007 - 12:24 PM

We're opening Kamimo Island officially on 21st September, but the Social English for Doctoral Students course kicks off on 19th September (though we're probably going to do most of the first session on the Marratech desktop video-conference system). We've got two Italians, an Estonian, three Swedes, two Norwegians and a Chinese person living in Norway as students … about right for a pilot course.

Kamimo Island is looking good - even though I say so myself! (Actually I haven't been involved in all the clever stuff, so I feel free to praise it …). It's got a very Scandinavian feel to it, with the kind of rocks we get up here, and some typical Scandinavian flowers. There's a fjord and a waterfall with a secret cave behind it. I really like the classroom with group tables which float up into the air (with the participants) when the group wants to talk privately (and float down again when it's time to go back to a plenary session).

The island's voice-enabled and we were having a planning meeting in there on Wednesday with participants from Pisa (Italy), northern Sweden, southern Sweden and Norway. The audio was absolutely clear, and the difference between having to communicate by typing and being able to just talk to each other was incredible - it's a completely different experience altogether.

I was so encouraged by the look and feel of the place that I've proposed a 'regular' university course in there in Spring 2008. It'll be a 3-credit course called Oral Production (that's 'Bologna' credits under the ECTS), which we'll advertise partly in the way that all Swedish university courses are advertised. In other words, it'll be a mainstream course that just happens to be run in Second Life. My bosses have it under consideration at the moment, but it looks fairly certain to run. (The main learning outcomes are going to involve being able to successfully discuss and describe academic and technical issues in English in a variety of forms and contexts). If we get the green light, we'll start in early February 2008.

In theory, anyone from anywhere within the Bologna area should be able to apply for the course - the only hindrances are purely practical ones, such as the fact that our admissions system basically only works in Swedish! However, I'm looking at this course as a test case to try to eliminate some of the more illogical barriers to cooperation across Europe.

We're only thinking of offering 24 places on the course at the moment, and some of them will almost certainly be nabbed by some people from Molde in Norway and Pisa in Italy. If you're interested, get in touch and we'll see if we can't drive a coach and horses through the various restrictive practices you find in university systems! Swedish university courses are non fee-paying, by the way, so it won't cost you anything, even if you live outside Sweden. You have to supply your own computer, though.

As you can probably tell from the tone of this post, I'm pretty excited by this development. I've never been attracted by the idea of teaching environments which require heavy investment in equipment and software to work at all - or which require vast amounts of (EU) funding just to be run as pilots. Thanks to the largesse of Norgesuniversitet, we've got this environment for three years now (and it'll only cost the three of us main partners a total of about $2500/year to keep it after that), so it's nice to be able to contemplate using it.

So … if you're interested in exploring it for real, get in touch. We're also working out a system whereby other universities can use the island on an organised basis.




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